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Transforming the global waste challenge into an opportunity: UNFC shows the way

Waste from industrial and domestic activities is a major concern for many countries around the world. As the global population grows and consumption increases, managing waste has become a seemingly insurmountable challenge. For example, solid municipal waste, which is generated at an annual rate of 1.2 billion tonnes per year, is projected to double to 2.2 billion tonnes by 2025.

In a workshop on Energy and Materials from Wastes: Application of United Nations Framework Classification (UNFC) for Assessing Anthropogenic Resources, held at the Eighth International Forum on Energy for Sustainable Development, 11-14 June in Astana, Kazakhstan, participants from international organisations, governmental authorities, industry and civil society explored how to transform today’s dire waste management situation into an opportunity.

Waste that is not properly managed can have an adverse impact on the planet and people. Waste piles festering in the open emit high levels of toxins, including some dangerous carcinogens. These waste piles and dumps are fertile breeding grounds for insects, which are carriers of many harmful pathogens and communicable diseases.

A neighbourhood with unattended and unmanaged waste may also become a staging ground for criminal activities. Studies have shown the importance of a clean neighbourhood in preventing crime, especially violent crimes against women and children. Rapidly growing cities have a critical need of a good waste management plan.

The situation is not limited to solid municipal waste. Industrial waste of all kinds is increasing because of growing use of energy and materials. Mining wastes, for example, are growing at an exponential rate as lower and lower grades of minerals are mined. The use of fossil fuels for energy production generates waste material such as coal ash and petroleum coke. The global phosphate fertilizer industry produces vast quantities of phosphogypsum, which is treated as waste in many countries.

While national budgets allocate significant sums for waste management, industrial stakeholders also bear responsibility for waste management.

Even with the significant efforts undertaken around the world today, waste poses major threats to life on land, in water and in the air. Goal 12 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for the substantial reduction of waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse.

Sustainable growth and development require minimizing the natural resources and toxic materials used as well as the waste and pollutants generated throughout the entire production and consumption process. This approach is not only good for the planet but also generates additional resources and value for society - a key theme addressed during the Workshop.

“Working with material labelled as waste is the first hurdle to cross”, said SHAO Zheru of Everbright Environmental Protection Technology and Equipment (Changzhou) Limited, China during the Astana Workshop. “There has always been a negative perception of waste-to-energy projects”. To overcome these challenges, Everbright has developed a portfolio of over 70 waste-to-energy projects in China using advanced, environment-friendly and safe technologies.

There is significant value in processing waste to recover energy and other valuable materials. Approximately 20% of the raw materials extracted worldwide end up as waste and are hence lost to the economy. Growing demand for mineral and energy resources makes recovery of waste attractive.

In this context, experts around the world seek to use the United Nations Framework Classification for Resources (UNFC) to assess the potential for recovery of energy and materials from waste. UNFC provides a clear and consistent pathway for classification of resources for sustainable use. Applying UNFC to waste can help transform what is often perceived as a major liability into an asset on the balance sheets of companies.

UNECE’s Expert Group on Resource Classification, which developed and manages UNFC, has initiated an activity to introduce standards for assessing waste management projects to recover value that would otherwise be lost. The UNFC anthropogenic resources guidelines can help waste-to-value projects in business process management and national policy development.  

“Financing such waste-to-energy projects is a major issue,” remarked Alan Lau of Anglo Euro Developers (S) Ltd, Indonesia. “As many of the projects operate in a public-private partnership (PPP) model, a shared understanding among diverse stakeholders has always been a problem”, he added.

The Workshop allowed participants to share and learn from a range of best practices and case studies from Everbright Group (China), Anglo Euro Developers (Singapore), Earth Engineering Center, Columbia University (USA), "Kazwaste” Association (Kazakhstan), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and BP.

For further information, please contact: Mr. Hari Tulsidas ([email protected]) and Mr. Tony Bonnici ([email protected])

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